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UK/Kenya: Court grants Kenyans right to sue Britain over torture claims

last updated Jul 26, 2011

A landmark court ruling has granted four Kenyan citizens the right to sue the British government for atrocities committed at the hands of the colonial power during the 1950s and 1960s. The four plaintiffs, mostly in their 80s now, claim they have been tortured by colonial officials and soldiers during the Mau Mau insurgency.

The accusations made by the four Kenyans include brutal treatment in detention camps, castration, sexual assaults and torture. Other detainees were allegedly murdered, forced into labour and starved. It is believed that the grandfather of Barack Obama was among those.

The judgement is generally perceived as a setback for the Foreign Office, which has advanced the view that the British government should not be held responsible for abuses committed by the former British colony. The decision by Judge Justice McCombe might encourage other victims of abuses by colonial officials to sue the British government. The case has been largely based on documents that were flown from Kenya to the UK in 1993 and was supported by human rights groups and prominent international figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The Mau Mau uprising took place in the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s. Members of the Mau Mau, an anti-colonial group striving for independence from the British colonialists, were detained, tortured and murdered at the hands of British officials who sought to suppress the movement. The officially death toll is around 11,000 but estimates go from 25,000 (David Anderson, Oxford University) to 300,000 (Caroline Elkins, Harvard University).

Guardian: Mau Mau torture claim Kenyans win right to sue British government

Independent: Mau Mau win the right to sue Britain

AoT: UK/Kenya: UK accused of torture in Kenya during the 1950s and 1960s

Kenya country profile